Google Plans to Invest $10 Billion in India

Google announced it will invest $10 billion in India in an effort to make the internet more “affordable and useful” to the more than one billion people living there. “This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement Monday. The money, to be spent through a new Google for India Digitization Fund over the next five to seven years, will invest in India’s technology sector.  FILE – Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a visit to El Centro College in Dallas, Oct. 3, 2019.”We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments,” said Pichai. This new investment represents Google’s biggest commitment to India yet. These investments focus on increasing access to the internet throughout India, as well as aiding businesses with the transition to online operations.  Much of this will be accomplished through a focus on using apps and new software platforms. Google aims to use this move to enlarge internet access beyond English and into more local languages throughout India. Google also hopes to use its investments for the public good, working to improve areas as broad as education, agriculture and health. “As we make these investments we look forward to working alongside Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and the Indian government, as well as Indian businesses of all sizes to realize a shared vision for a Digital India,” Pichai said. “Our goal is to ensure that India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation but leads it.” 
 

your ad here

US, China, UAE Sending Spacecraft to Mars This Week

In a fresh attempt to scout out signs of previous life on Mars, the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates are sending out spacecraft to Mars, starting this week.The unmanned spacecraft are also analyzing the area to prepare for future astronauts.The U.S. is sending a rover named Perseverance to gather rock samples, and it will likely not return for ten years.Each spacecraft must go over 482 million kilometers to reach Mars, after which they must leave Earth’s orbit and enter Mars’. The process of arriving alone takes at least six or seven months.The countries’ goal is to find out if Mars had any signs of previous microscopic life. As has been previously determined, Mars used to have bodies of water, so it’s possible the planet was also host to some type of life.In this illustration on June 16, 2020, NASA’s Perseverance rover uses its Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) instrument to analyze a rock on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)“Robot missions over the past decade or so have shown that Mars is not a dead, alien place as we had concluded in the late 20th century. In fact it is a world peppered with old lake beds, dried out river channels and organic material,“ said Professor Ray Arvidson, of Washington University, St Louis. All three countries are sending out spacecraft in the same week because there is a period of only one month in every 26 months in which Mars and Earth are on the same side of the sun. When they’re on the same side of the sun, the time for travel can be reduced as much as possible. Only the U.S. has placed a spacecraft on Mars before. 

your ad here

North Macedonia: Ballot Boxes Carried to Quarantined Homes

Election officials in North Macedonia carried ballot boxes to the homes of voters suffering from COVID-19 or in quarantine Monday, at the start of three days of voting in a general election that was delayed for months by the pandemic. Wearing white coveralls and other protective gear, the officials were visiting the homes of some 700 people who registered to vote in the pandemic but were unable to travel to polling stations. It is the first time elections have been held on a weekday, with the date set after the original April 12 vote was postponed due to the pandemic.After the delays, special provisions were made for those quarantined due to the virus. Of the roughly 5,000 people quarantined, just over 700 have registered to vote. Prison inmates, the elderly and the ill vote on Tuesday before the polls open Wednesday.  North Macedonia is holding its first parliamentary election under its new country name, with voters heading to the polls during an alarming spike of coronavirus cases in this small Balkan nation.The country has been run by a caretaker government since January following the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev after the European Union failed to set a date for North Macedonia to begin accession talks. Parliament elected a temporary government consisting of members of both main parties, with the sole aim of organizing the election.  Opinion polls in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote indicate a close race between coalitions led by the former governing Social Democrats and the center-right opposition VMRO-DPMNE party. The opposition is eager to return to power after losing the last election in 2016 following a decade running the country.Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Social Democrat-led coalition “Mozeme” (We Can) and the VMRO-led coalition “Obnova” (Renewal) are campaigning mostly through small gatherings and video messages.The caretaker government handled the coronavirus outbreak relatively well until May, imposing a lockdown that kept the number of infections and deaths low. But after authorities eased restrictions and opened the borders, North Macedonia saw an increase in new cases and deaths that have placed it among the most badly affected European nations in terms of the number of deaths and confirmed cases per capita.With more than 8,000 infected people and about 380 deaths in this country of around 2 million people by Sunday, the pandemic and its devastating economic consequences have become the main election issue. The opposition accuses Zaev’s party of being unable to deal with the outbreak or pull the country out of recession.North Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe with a per-capita GDP of about $6,100. About a half of its 2 million people live on the brink of poverty.Polls suggest neither party will win the 61 seats needed in the 120-member parliament to be able to govern alone, meaning a coalition government with a smaller ethnic Albanian party is likely. A total of 15 parties and coalitions are running.Zaev, the Social Democrat leader, has touted his success in securing the country’s NATO membership after sealing a historic 2017 deal with neighboring Greece over the country’s name. Greece had been blocking the country’s NATO accession for three decades, objecting to the use of the name “Macedonia” which it said harbored expansionist claims on its own province of the same name.Zaev also signed a friendship deal with Bulgaria, part of a push to resolve issues with neighboring countries and prepare for EU membership.  The Social Democrats beat the populist conservative VMRO-DPMNE party in 2016 after a decade of autocratic rule by its then-leader Nikola Gruevski, who fled to Hungary to avoid serving a two-year jail sentence for abuse of power and corruption. Hungary granted him political asylum and North Macedonia is seeking his extradition.Gruevski’s successor, Hristijan Mickoski, moved VMRO-DPMNE toward the center-right and is appealing to voters disappointed with the country’s name change and the deal with Bulgaria. He also accuses the Social Democrats of corruption, influencing the judiciary, nepotism and destroying the economy.”These are elections when we decide on the future of our families, elections in which we need to make our ancestors proud,” Mickoski said during a recent television debate with Zaev. “The choice now on July 15 is between injustice, humiliation, and on the other hand justice and dignity.”The Social Democrats point to their success in achieving NATO membership and promise EU accession and a revival of the economy with billions in foreign investments.  “We have proved that North Macedonia could be a friend with everybody, made smart deals that brought the country into NATO and enabled a green light for the start of accession talks with the EU after 15 years,” Zaev said.If neither party wins enough seats to form a government, the largest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, or DUI, is the most likely coalition partner.  DUI has been in coalition governments for the past 18 years, and now says it is “high time” for an ethnic Albanian to head the government.Its slogan “Pse Jo?” (Why not?) was chosen to challenge the last “remaining ethnic taboo” of an ethnic Albanian being named prime minister. DUI has already chosen a long-retired politician for the post.Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of North Macedonia’s population. They took up arms against government forces in 2001, and the six-month conflict ended with a Western-brokered deal granting them greater minority rights, including making Albanian the country’s second official language.  Both main parties have rejected DUI’s idea.Over 1.8 million people are eligible to vote at nearly 3,500 polling stations. About 2,000 domestic and 130 international observers will monitor the process.Masks are compulsory during voting, and a two-meter distance must be kept from election officials. Authorities are assuring voters the process will not endanger their health. 

your ad here

Look Out, Mars: Here We Come with a Fleet of Spacecraft

Mars is about to be invaded by planet Earth — big time. Three countries — the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates — are sending unmanned spacecraft to the red planet in quick succession beginning this week, in the most sweeping effort yet to seek signs of ancient microscopic life while scouting out the place for future astronauts.The U.S., for its part, is dispatching a six-wheeled rover the size of a car, named Perseverance, to collect rock samples that will be brought back to Earth for analysis in about a decade. “Right now, more than ever, that name is so important,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said as preparations went on amid the coronavirus outbreak, which will keep the launch guest list to a minimum. Each spacecraft will travel more than 300 million miles (483 million kilometers) before reaching Mars next February. It takes six to seven months, at the minimum, for a spacecraft to loop out beyond Earth’s orbit and sync up with Mars’ more distant orbit around the sun. Scientists want to know what Mars was like billions of years ago when it had rivers, lakes and oceans that may have allowed simple, tiny organisms to flourish before the planet morphed into the barren, wintry desert world it is today. “Trying to confirm that life existed on another planet, it’s a tall order. It has a very high burden of proof,” said Perseverance’s project scientist, Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena, California.In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover Perseveranceo, Dec. 17, 2019. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)The three nearly simultaneous launches are no coincidence: The timing is dictated by the opening of a one-month window in which Mars and Earth are in ideal alignment on the same side of the sun, which minimizes travel time and fuel use. Such a window opens only once every 26 months. Mars has long exerted a powerful hold on the imagination but has proved to be the graveyard for numerous missions. Spacecraft have blown up, burned up or crash-landed, with the casualty rate over the decades exceeding 50%. China’s last attempt, in collaboration with Russia in 2011, ended in failure. Only the U.S. has successfully put a spacecraft on Mars, doing it eight times, beginning with the twin Vikings in 1976. Two NASA landers are now operating there, InSight and Curiosity. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three U.S., two European and one from India. The United Arab Emirates and China are looking to join the elite club. The UAE spacecraft, named Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, is an orbiter scheduled to rocket away from Japan on Wednesday, local time, on what will be the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. The spacecraft, built in partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, will arrive at Mars in the year the UAE marks the 50th anniversary of its founding. “The UAE wanted to send a very strong message to the Arab youth,” project manager Omran Sharaf said. “The message here is that if the UAE can reach Mars in less than 50 years, then you can do much more. … The nice thing about space, it sets the standards really high.” Controlled from Dubai, the celestial weather station will strive for an exceptionally high Martian orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers) to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change. China will be up next, with the flight of a rover and an orbiter sometime around July 23; Chinese officials aren’t divulging much. The mission is named Tianwen, or Questions for Heaven. NASA, meanwhile, is shooting for a launch on July 30 from Cape Canaveral.  Perseverance is set to touch down in an ancient river delta and lake known as Jezero Crater, not quite as big as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. China’s much smaller rover will aim for an easier, flatter target. To reach the surface, both spacecraft will have to plunge through Mars’ hazy red skies in what has been dubbed “seven minutes of terror” — the most difficult and riskiest part of putting spacecraft on the planet. Jezero Crater is full of boulders, cliffs, sand dunes and depressions, any one of which could end Perseverance’s mission. Brand-new guidance and parachute-triggering technology will help steer the craft away from hazards. Ground controllers will be helpless, given the 10 minutes it takes radio transmissions to travel one-way between Earth and Mars. Jezero Crater is worth the risks, according to scientists who chose it over 60 other potential sites.  Where there was water — and Jezero was apparently flush with it 3.5 billion years ago — there may have been life, though it was probably only simple microbial life, existing perhaps in a slimy film at the bottom of the crater. But those microbes may have left telltale marks in the sediment layers. Perseverance will hunt for rocks containing such biological signatures, if they exist.  It will drill into the most promising rocks and store a half-kilogram (about 1 pound) of samples in dozens of titanium tubes that will eventually be fetched by another rover. To prevent Earth microbes from contaminating the samples, the tubes are super-sterilized, guaranteed germ-free by Adam Stelzner, chief engineer for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “Yep, I’m staking my reputation on it,” he said. While prowling the surface, Perseverance as well as China’s rover will peek below, using radar to locate any underground pools of water that might exist. Perseverance will also release a spindly, 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter that will be the first rotorcraft ever to fly on another planet.  Perseverance’s cameras will shoot color video of the rover’s descent, providing humanity’s first look at a parachute billowing open at Mars, while microphones capture the sounds.  The rover will also attempt to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the thin Martian atmosphere. Extracted oxygen could someday be used by astronauts on Mars for breathing as well as for making rocket propellant. NASA wants to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and send them from there to Mars in the 2030s. To that end, the space agency is sending samples of spacesuit material with Perseverance to see how they stand up against the harsh Martian environment. The tab for Perseverance’s mission, including the flight and a minimum two years of Mars operations, is close to $3 billion. The UAE’s project costs $200 million, including the launch but not mission operations. China has not disclosed its costs. Europe and Russia dropped plans to send a life-seeking rover to Mars this summer after falling behind in testing and then getting slammed by COVID-19.  Perseverance’s mission is seen by NASA as a comparatively low-risk way of testing out some of the technology that will be needed to send humans to the red planet and bring them home safely. “Sort of crazy for me to call it low risk because there’s a lot of hard work in it and there are billions of dollars in it,” Farley said. “But compared to humans, if something goes wrong, you will be very glad you tested it out on a half-kilogram of rock instead of on the astronauts.”  

your ad here

US Set for First Federal Execution in 17 Years

The U.S. federal government is set to execute an inmate for the first time in 17 years, after a federal appeals court ruling on the matter Sunday.
 
Daniel Lewis Lee, a member of a white supremacist group from Yukon, Oklahoma, was convicted of murdering a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl in 1996.
 
Sunday’s decision follows a string of appeals, during which even the family of the victims opposed the execution.
 
Lee’s family had filed an appeal saying that traveling thousands of kilometers to witness the execution in a small room where social distancing is not possible would put them at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
 
Lee is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 4pm local time on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana.
 
Last month, he U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a legal challenge to a new lethal injection protocol proposed for federal executions, clearing the way for the Trump administration to resume executing federal death row inmates for the first time in nearly two decades.
 

your ad here

How the Discovery of Fresh Water Will Bolster Chinese Claims in a Disputed Sea

Discovery of a rare freshwater reserve under one of its land holdings in a widely disputed sea gives China a boost in occupying the islet and offers it a new defense for its sovereignty claims if they land in international court.A freshwater lens is forming under Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, Chinese researchers said in the peer-reviewed publication Hydrology Journal. The lens created by tidal activity will take 20 years to become “stable” at 15 meters thick, the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology researchers in Guangzhou said in the May 2020 study.“Having this freshwater access evidently will change the quality of life and change their ability to station people on the artificial island,” said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center research organization in Washington.Most among the hundreds of islets in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea are semi-submerged or too small to support freshwater supplies. China used reclaimed land to build up Fiery Cross Reef to its current 274 hectares and now operates an airbase there with several hundred personnel.The presence of water could mildly help China in any international court case to argue that Fiery Cross deserves a 370-kilometer-wide ocean exclusive economic zone, analysts say. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest all or parts of China’s claims to the sea. They prize the waterway for its fisheries plus undersea reserves of oil and gas.The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea considers an islet’s ability to sustain life or economic activity when deciding whether a country can draw up an exclusive economic zone, but in 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected that right for Taiping Island, a Taiwanese-controlled Spratly feature with its own water supply.China leads the other claimants in firepower, technology and scientific research. It may have explored other South China Sea holdings for freshwater as well but found some only on Fiery Cross Reef, Sun said. Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines claim sovereignty over the same reef.Finding water will at least boost Chinese morale, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.“These are somewhat psychological building blocks,” Huang said. They imply, he said, that the Chinese “are making progress, they are moving on, but I don’t think in real terms they can actually use the limited freshwater to do anything so strategically.”A local freshwater source will cut the costs of shipping water to Fiery Cross Reef or desalinating it, analysts note. That advantage would make it easier to station troops there. Woody Island, a Chinese-held South China Sea feature with about 1,000 long-term residents, collects rainwater and gets additional water shipped in.But the freshwater lens won’t give China enough water to support a “sizable” fighting force on the ground, Huang said.“It doesn’t change the balance of power in the region,” said Carl Thayer, Southeast Asia-specialized emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It doesn’t give China a stronger leg up in any aspect. You could catch rainwater and store it and treat it and drink it, if you have the space.” 

your ad here

China Announces Sanctions Against U.S. Lawmakers Over Uighur Issue

China has imposed sanctions on three U.S. lawmakers in retaliation for Trump administration’s sanctions imposed over Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying announced sanctions Monday against Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Republican Representative Chris Smith.Hua also said sanctions have been imposed against Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, and the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, a joint congressional-White House panel created to “monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law” in China.  Rubio is the Republican co-chair of the panel, and Smith is the ranking member and a former co-chair of the committee.The “corresponding sanctions” were announced days after the Trump administration imposed financial sanctions against several high-ranking Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, the Chinese Communist Party chief in Xinjiang.President Donald Trump signed legislation last month that allowed for sanctions to be imposed over the mass incarceration of as many as 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.Ties between the world’s biggest economies have deteriorated in recent months over a host of issues, including trade and human rights concerns involving Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Xinjiang. 

your ad here

Washington to Shed ‘Redskins’ name Monday, Reports Say

Washington’s NFL team will get rid of the name ‘Redskins’ on Monday, according to multiple reports.It’s unclear when a new name will be revealed for one of the league’s oldest franchises.USA Today, ESPN, The Washington Post, Washington Times and Sports Business Journal reported Sunday night that owner Dan Snyder is set to “retire” the name. Yahoo, on Saturday, reported a name change was imminent.The team launched a ‘thorough review’ of the name July 3 that the NFL supported. That came in the aftermath of prominent sponsors FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and Bank of America asking the team to change the name.FedEx is the title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, and CEO Frederick Smith is a minority owner. Nike and other companies pulled team gear from their online stores.Over a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name.In the letter that was obtained by The Associated Press, they said they “expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.”  

your ad here

COVID Fight Cuts Care for Women, Children

So far, the coronavirus pandemic has caused more than half a million deaths in its sweep around the world. What isn’t included is the impact on the health of mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents. Because of the pandemic, health care for women and children has been cut by 20 percent, and the result is rising death rates and poorer health in these groups. VOA’s Carol Pearson has more.

your ad here

Top White House Adviser Expects Tough Action on TikTok, WeChat

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to act firmly against the TikTok and WeChat applications, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.Trump last week had said he is considering banning the wildly-popular TikTok app as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic.In an interview with Fox News, Navarro argued that “what the American people have to understand is all of the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with… goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party.”He said these apps can be used to steal intellectual property. “So expect strong actions on that” by Trump, Navarro warned.Fast-growing video-sharing app TikTok belongs to the Chinese group ByteDance and has nearly one billion users worldwide.TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese owners, pointing out it has an American CEO and consistently denying allegations that it shares data with Beijing.WeChat, owned by Tencent, is the main messaging application in China with more than one billion users.
 Navarro also accused TikTok’s new boss Kevin Mayer, former head of Disney’s streaming platforms, of being an American puppet.On Friday Amazon said it mistakenly sent workers an email telling them to dump the TikTok mobile application from their cell phones because of security concerns.An Amazon spokesperson later told AFP “there is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”Democratic campaign teams for the U.S. presidential election have been asked to avoid using TikTok on personal devices and, if they do, to keep it on a non-work phone.The research firm eMarketer estimates TikTok has more than 52 million U.S. users, having gained about 12 million since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. TikTok is especially popular with young smartphone users. 

your ad here

Syrian Kurds Alarmed Over UN Security Council Vote on Aid

Kurdish officials in northeast Syria are expressing disappointment following a vote by the United Nations Security Council that failed to address “the deteriorating humanitarian situation” in that part of the war-torn country.  
 
The U.N. Security Council on Saturday approved a resolution authorizing an international program that will deliver aid to the rebel-held northwest Syrian province of Idlib through one border crossing.
 
However, the majority of the council, including the U.S., wanted to reopen another border crossing with Turkey and a third on Syria’s northeast border with Iraq in order to get aid to an estimated 1.3 million Syrians in need of medical supplies.
 
The Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Idlib province will remain open to humanitarian aid for one year. The other two crossings, Bab al-Salama between Turkey and Syria’s Aleppo province, and al-Yaroubia, between northeast Syria and Iraq, will not be reopened.   
 
The Security Council vote Saturday came after previous efforts to reauthorize the opening of Bab al-Hawa and al-Yaroubia failed by vetoes from Russia and China.
 ‘Unfolding catastrophe’
 
Local officials in northeast Syria say blocking aid through al-Yaroubia crossing would throw the already-volatile region into further uncertainty.  
 
“With this decision, we are literally left alone to deal with an unfolding catastrophe,” said Luqman Ehmi, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and East of Syria.
 
“The Security Council failed to address what our region has been experiencing for a long time, and this is a very negative move against us,” he told VOA.FILE – Members of a displaced Kurdish family sit at a public school they use as a temporary shelter, in Hasakah, Syria, Oct. 22, 2019.The semiautonomous region is under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State terror group. The partnership was key to liberate much of eastern Syria from IS militants.  
 
Kelly Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said the U.S. “cannot disguise our disappointment at the loss of the Bab al-Salama and al-Yaroubia border crossings, which puts millions of Syrian women, children and men at risk.”
 
“To them, I say we will never back down. We will always have hope for your future and will continue to stand with you,” she said in a tweet after the Saturday vote.
 Monopolizing aid
 
Russia, a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has insisted that all international aid go through Damascus.  
 
Humanitarian groups and officials, however, say the Syrian government monopolizes aid for political purposes.  
 
They add that the decade-long conflict in Syria and the recent outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have created a major humanitarian crisis in the country, including the northeast.     
 
“The Syrian regime continues to impose high tariffs on anything that enters our region, including medical supplies,” said Kurdish spokesman Ehmi.FILE – A displaced Syrian Kurdish woman, who fled violence with her family after a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, gives one of her children a shower at a public school they use as a temporary shelter, in Hasakah, Syria, Oct. 22, 2019.Kemal Derbas of the Kurdish Red Crescent, one of the largest humanitarian groups that provides medical care to refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) in northeast Syria, says relying on Damascus for receiving international aid has proved futile.
 
“The Syrian regime doesn’t recognize most of the humanitarian groups that operate in northern Syria,” Derbas told VOA.
 
“This forces the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, to redirect its support to regime-held areas. The WHO used to deliver some aid and funding to us through al-Yaroubia border crossing, but after this Security Council voting it is no longer an option,” he said.   
 
Some medical aid groups have shut down their operations because of a lack of funding, Derbas said, noting that about 300,000 IDP and refugees in northeast Syria will have no adequate access to medical services.
 ‘De facto embargo’ 
 
Some observers say the recent U.N. decision represents a de facto embargo on those Syrian regions that don’t have access to aid.  
 
“People in SDF-held areas in northeast Syria will be deprived from much needed international aid” at a critical time, said Siruan Hadsch Hossein, a journalist at the local radio station Arta FM.  
 
He told VOA that millions of civilians in northeast Syria, including hundreds of thousands in refugee camps, will immediately suffer the consequences of the U.N. move.  
 
“This voting proves that the international community is not ready to find a resolution for the Syrian conflict,” Hossein said. “It is disgraceful that certain members of the Security Council such as Russia use humanitarian aid to score political points.” 

your ad here

Mask Use Emphasized as US Grapples With Coronavirus Surge

With more than 3 million cases and over 137,000 deaths, COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on the United States as the number of new infections continues to rise. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, encouraging people to wear masks is becoming a widespread effort throughout the country that could help control the spread of the virus. 

your ad here

Puerto Rican Activists Demand Removal of Monuments to Spanish Colonizers

Demonstrators around the U.S. have been calling in recent weeks for the removal of confederate monuments honoring slaveowners who fought against Union troops in the American Civil War.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports of a similar movement south of the mainland in Puerto Rico, where activists call for the removal of statues honoring Spanish colonizers.

your ad here

Press Watchdogs Urge Azerbaijan, Tajikistan to Unblock OSCE Appointment

Dozens of press freedom watchdogs are calling on Azerbaijan and Tajikistan to cease efforts to block reappointment of the OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) top media rights official.
 
French diplomat Harlem Desir, who was appointed the inter-governmental body’s press freedom representative in 2017—one of OSCE’s top four positions—has been lauded by international rights groups as a staunch advocate for press freedom in the OSCE region.
 
In late June, the foreign ministry of OSCE member state Azerbaijan blocked a package of preliminary renewal mandates for all top OSCE officials and issued a letter of protest over Desir’s pending reappointment in particular.
 
On Friday, some 29 international press freedom groups led by London-based Article19 issued an open letter to Azerbaijani and Tajik officials—who, the letter states, made a similar threat—condemning their efforts to “weaken the essential watchdog function of the [OSCE] mandate.”
 
“As the COVID-19 pandemic showed, ensuring media freedom is more important now than ever,” said the dozens of signatories, which include Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Freedom House, PEN International, and the European Federation of Journalists. “We urge the Governments of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan and all OSCE participating States to uphold their international commitments and to support the renewal of the mandate of Mr. Désir before it expires on 19 July.”
 
The OSCE’s consensus-based structure means even a single detracting vote can scuttle any reappointment. Although OSCE members can vote to renew the top four leadership appointments individually, the threat of abstention could leave Desir’s role vacant until OSCE reconvenes in September.
 
“Azerbaijan and Tajikistan—the countries with the worst press freedom records in the OSCE region (apart from Turkmenistan)—have succeeded in blocking the reappointment of @harlemdesir as @OSCE_RFoM,” Tweeted RSF’s Rebecca Vincent on Friday. “Shameful.”
 
“They can now effectively evade OSCE scrutiny,” Vincent told Malta-based digital news outlet The Shift.
 
In its 2020 annual World Press Freedom Index, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Azerbaijan 168 out of 180 countries. It ranked Tajikistan 161.
 
In January, Desir called on Tajikistan to grant accreditations to RFE/RL’s entire Tajik Service, “saying journalists must be able to work ‘freely without undue restrictions.'” RFE/RL, one of VOA’s congressionally funded sister networks, has been locked in a longstanding accreditation battle with Dushanbe.
 
In February, he called on Tajik officials to release jailed independent journalist Daler Sharipov, who often reported on the country’s human rights and religious freedom violations.I wrote to the authorities of #Tajikistan calling for the immediate release of journalist Daler Sharipov. Media must be able to investigate and to publish, including on the Internet, without fear of reprisal. #Journosafe— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) February 3, 2020Desir has issued at least a dozen officials statements criticizing Azerbaijan’s stifling press restrictions since assuming his OSCE post in 2017, most recently condemning the Supreme Court’s (( https://bit.ly/30f73Kz )) decision to block access to Akhbor.com for an April 5 report on the country’s first alleged death from the coronavirus pandemic.
 
On July 6, a news outlet run by the Baku-based Trend News Agency published an editorial entitled “People like Harlem Désir made OSCE turn into instrument for political orders.”
 
“Azerbaijan considers Désir’s activities to be biased, non-objective and non-independent, … [which] is a gross violation of the representative’s mandate,” the editorial states. “Désir speaks from an anti-Azerbaijani and pro-Armenian position.”
 
A team of OSCE negotiators have been leading conflict resolution talks since 2016 when the long-frozen Nagorno-Karabakh border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia began flaring up again.
 
Azerbaijani and Tajik officials did not respond to VOA’s requests for comment at the time of publication.
 

your ad here

Nearly 600,000 Vote in Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Primaries

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll. The primaries were held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability. Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to vote despite a warning last week by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang, that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government. Organizers dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature. The new law prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation. On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primaries. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp. To hold the primaries, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, the city’s leader must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice. Organizers said Sunday that nearly 600,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a turnout of 170,000. “Despite the threat of the national security law, there are still nearly 600,000 people coming out to vote, “ said Au Nok-hin, one of the organizers of the primaries. ”We can see Hong Kongers are really brave.”  

your ad here

Mali Opposition Rejects President’s Concessions Aimed at Ending Impasse 

Mali’s opposition on Sunday rejected concessions by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita aimed at resolving an escalating political crisis that has sparked deadly protests, saying it would be satisfied only if he resigns.   FILE – Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott,Keita announced in a speech late on Saturday he was dissolving the Constitutional Court and would move to implement recommendations made last month by regional bloc ECOWAS, which included re-running some of March’s contested legislative elections.   A spokesman for M5-RFP, a coalition of political, religious and civil society leaders that launched protests over a month ago calling for Keita to resign, rejected his proposal.   “We are not going to accept this nonsense,” the spokesman, Nouhoum Togo, told Reuters. “We demand his resignation plain and simple.”   Keita, who won a second term in 2018, has faced mounting public discontent over a perceived failure to address the country’s security and economic problems. The wave of protests was sparked by a dispute over the elections. The court that Keita proposed dissolving reversed several provisional results, handing additional seats in parliament to the president’s party.   Four people died in the capital Bamako on Friday during a demonstration where protesters occupied the parliament and national broadcaster, the government said. It was the third major protest organized by the M5-RFP since June 5.   Togo said the police shot and killed eight opposition supporters on Saturday.   It was not immediately possible to corroborate that. Police officials could not be reached for comment. Asked about the claim, a Security Ministry spokesperson said he did not have any information about that yet. 

your ad here